Marie Josée Ta Lou training at the HPTC Dakar (© HPTC Dakar)
Marie Josée Ta Lou has been an international athlete since 2010 but made her big breakthrough this summer, making the semi-finals of the 100m and 200m at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 before going on to win both sprint titles at the All Africa Games.
The 27-year-old from Ivory Coast has been living and training at the IAAF High Performance Training Centre (HPTC) in Dakar, Senegal, since December 2013 and she give a brief insight into what living and training at an IAAF HPTC is like.
Can you describe a day in the life of an elite athlete training at a HPTC?
I wake up at 6:30am and shower; 7:30am-8:00am is breakfast and then at 8:30am we depart for training; 9:00am is the warm-up and then from 9.30am the training session begins until 11:00am-11:30am.
Depending upon the volume of the session, we can sometimes finish earlier than expected. After returning to the Centre, we have lunch and then we rest until about 4.30pm, and then I often have an abdominal workout.
What are the advantages of training at the HPTC?
For me the benefits of training here are that I benefit from a good plan from my coach who knows what I really need to make progress and he always knows what to do next.
How important has it been in your progress as an athlete?
It has been of great importance because, before arriving at the HPTC Dakar, and working with my new coach, I was running 11.5s for the 100m. After two years working with him, I made big progress: 11.20 in 2014 and the 11.02 in 2015. I can say that I have made progress. (She also won medals in both sprints at the 2014 African Championships, bronze in the 100m and silver in the 200m, as well as representing Africa at the IAAF Continental Cup.)
How difficult was it for you to uproot yourself from your home environment?
It wasn’t difficult, because since 2010 I have been living away from my family environment. I was previously based in Shanghai in China.
Were there any adjustment problems when you arrived at the HPTC in Dakar, such as making new friends and being in a different environment?
I had no problems making friends because I already knew quite a lot of people here but regarding food and other things, I would say yes, adapting was difficult and it's still difficult for me, particular as there is not a great variety with the food. We still have to eat the same sauce at every meal!
What are your goals in the coming year and how can being at the HPTC achieve them?
My goal for next year is to get a medal at the World Indoor Championships and then the African Championships, and also be a finalist at the Rio Olympic Games; and why not also bring back a medal? How can I reach those goals? Only by training hard.
What would you say to an athlete thinking about applying to train at a HPTC?
I would tell him or her that life at a HPTC is not as easy as all that, but if you set definite goals and you know what you really want then you can get the means to reach everything. However, I would certainly say life in a community, and adapting to new food and a different culture can be complicated.
Vicky Brennan (IAAF Development & Member Relations Department ) for the IAAF